So you’ve seen the Sacré-Cœur, taken the obligatory selfie at the candy-pink façade of the Maison Rose, and ambled among the artists and caricaturists of bohemian Montmartre. Now it’s time to step aside slightly from the tourist trail. This Moulin Rouge themed walking tour guarantees a leisurely paced prelude to a night at the cabaret, and you won’t need to get your metro ticket out once.
26 Rue la Vieuville
This souvenir shop, a short walk from Abbesses metro, is named after one of Moulin Rouge’s original Belle Epoque stars. During her headline residency at the venue, La Goulue (The Glutton) made a name for herself as both a glamorous performer and an absinthe fiend. She was famed for snatching audience members’ glasses as she danced past them and downing them in a single gulp. Sometimes her pet goat joined her, and even after her stage career came to an end, the former Queen of Montmartre was still dabbling in the likes of lion taming.
Her idea of a “quiet retirement” involved scurrying around the streets with a cigarette in one hand and a writhing circus animal in the other. By now almost permanently tipsy, according to some reports, she was almost as fearsome a sight as the lions she struggled to subdue. Until her seventh decade, when alcoholism spelt her demise, she lived an unapologetically colorful and unconventional life – and this souvenir store is an aptly named tribute. An unassuming little bric-a-brac spot, it often goes unnoticed, but is worth a visit. While there are many eclectic shops to enjoy in the area over a morning, this should perhaps be the last stop to linger at before lunch.
CAFE DES DEUX MOULINS
15 rue Lepic
A seven minute walk from La Goulue, this mouth-watering lunch spot is best known as the famous café from the 2001 movie Amélie. The Marmite of Montmartre, some diners complain of poor service, while others have had an experience they claim was “akin to a movie scene”. Perhaps the film is a little more memorable than the food, but – although actress Audrey Tatou is no longer waiting tables here – it is still a must-see location on an itinerary for this district. Its name is a reference to the two most famous windmills of Montmartre – the Moulin Rouge and the Moulin de la Galette. Plus for dessert, perhaps pop to the official Moulin Rouge store two doors down, where you can buy strawberry flavored French can-can sweets in patriotic shades of red, white and blue stripes.
VAN GOGH’S FORMER HOME
54 rue Lepic
Just a few dozen door numbers from the café lies one of Vincent Van Gogh’s homes. The two years that he lived in Montmartre were perhaps his most prolifically creative of all, as he created 200 paintings here in his home studio – more than in any other period of his life. He moved from this location before the Moulin Rouge began, but would later return and attend the cabaret as an audience member, apparently artistically inspired by the show. His brother Theo had complained bitterly about sharing a home with this “dirty and slovenly” misunderstood artist, whose disheveled demeanor he believed was driving away more presentable guests from visiting. Today, however, nearby souvenir shops appreciate Van Gogh’s presence far more, stocking prints of the local views he drew.
MUSEE DE MONTMARTRE
12 Rue Cortot
Less than a ten minute walk away, this must-see museum is an excellent guide to the history of Montmartre. It takes visitors back in time to the days when the district was a rural village filled with sprawling vineyards and working windmills, and the hustle and bustle of city life was in the distance. It tells its story through words and paintings, and relives the days when the Moulin Rouge sported a giant elephant in its gardens in which bellydance performances were staged.
The Montmartre of yesteryear was about two central themes: the toil of agriculture by day and the lavish theatrical performances of dance, drama, cabaret and circus by night. In keeping with this theme, the museum even hosts an entire room dedicated to the history of the French can-can. Meanwhile the noteworthy Renoir Gardens surrounding the museum are sumptuous in spring and perhaps one of Paris’s best kept secrets. Unjustly languishing in the shadow of city spots like the Jardin des Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg, they have a unique beauty of their own, plus a stunning view of the vineyard area where many of the cabaret revelers once worked.
MOULIN DE LA GALETTE
83 rue Lepic
After working up an appetite strolling in the gardens, the most visually and historically iconic restaurant in all of Montmartre lies just a five minute walk away. With a huge windmill atop its roof, it is one of just two surviving original mills in the area. This location was so famous that Picasso created a legendary painting of it at just 19 years old. The likes of Cézanne, Renoir, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec would also immortalize it in illustration. They would stop here to enjoy freshly baked bread made from flour ground by the mill, and a glass of wine – or several – produced with grapes from the local vineyard. Today, as a restaurant, it serves up all the staples of classic French cuisine – burgundy snails, foie gras from a gourmet maison plus Parisian desserts with an unusual twist – for example, lychee flavored macarons. Bon appétit!
HOTEL ROYAL FROMENTIN BAR
11 rue Fromentin
Ah, the infamous absinthe. Oscar Wilde drowned his sorrows while under the influence, Ernest Hemingway performed “knife tricks” and Van Gogh had perhaps the most dramatic reaction of all, cutting off his own ear. One suspects he might have been dosed with a toxic cocktail by counterfeiters. Nowadays, of course, the diluted formulas are perfectly safe, and far less likely to provoke an episode of so-called “absinthe madness”. For those fancying the amble down to Pigalle to sample some, the glamorous bar at the Royal Fromentin hotel awaits a 15 minute walk away. Better still, and true to the Moulin Rouge theme, the hotel is housed in a former cabaret – and the bar is plastered with vintage showgirl posters.
82 Boulevard de Clichy
One last four minute walk marks your arrival at the final destination of the night – the most famous of all Parisian cabarets, the Moulin Rouge. An evening of feathers, sequins and Swarovski will ensue – and, for recommendations of the best hotels within walking distance of the Moulin Rouge, click here.
Lead photo credit : The Moulin Rouge. Photo credit: Moulin Rouge/ D. Duguet